Resources for Teachers

Grade 9-12: Geography

Download or Purchase USGS Maps and Satellite Imagery|| Geologic Maps|| Land Use|| Map Teaching Resources|| Map Tools|| Online Maps of the US|| Satellite Imagery|| Thematic Maps|| Topographic Maps

Online Maps of the United States

USGS Education Map Catalog- Maps
Browse samples of USGS maps that are popular with educators. Order paper copies through this site. Where available, links are provided to pdf versions that can be freely downloaded. (Navigate to this site on your own by going to the USGS Storeand clicking on "Education Products")   

Printable Outline Maps of States (plus reference maps and more!)- Maps
Download hundreds of reference maps for individual states and for all of the United States. These are specifically designed to print on 8.5"x11" paper for classroom use. Includes unlabeled outline maps of the U.S. Formerly available on the National Atlas website.

Map Teaching Resources

Understanding Maps- Maps and Lessons
In this lesson, you will learn how to create a map with its basic components: map scale, north arrow, legend, etc. By creating a map of your school, you will learn the purpose of the different map components that will help you recognize a good useful map, from an artistic depiction of a map.

Topographic Map Resources for Teachers- Background Information
An overall summary of useful USGS resources for working with topographic maps: where to get them; how to interpret them; how to use them; explanations of coordinates, datums, and projections; and lessons for the classroom.

Exploring Maps- Lesson
Exploring Maps is an interdisciplinary set of materials on mapping for grades 7-12.  Students will learn basic mapmaking and map-reading skills and will see how maps can answer fundamental geographic questions.  The map images and activities in this packet can be used in various courses, including geography, history, math, art, English, and the sciences.   

Topographic Salad Tray Model- Activity
An inexpensive and easy way to create a three-dimensional model using topographic map contours.

Map Projections- Background Information
Every map projection has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Learn about the eighteen most common map projections and how their properties and uses compare. A popular poster version of this information is available for free through the USGS Store (product number 16573).

Topographic Maps

Constructing a 3D Topographic Map- Activity
This exercise uses clear plastic take-out lids, each marked with a different elevation line, and stacked to produce a 3D topographic map. It includes a base map of Angel Island (San Francisco Bay) but can be adapted to any local topographic feature.

27 Ideas for Teaching with Topographic Maps- Activity
Contains 27 ideas for teaching with the approximately 57,000 topographic maps that the USGS offers.   

Map Mysteries- Background Information
Sample questions to use with USGS topographic and thematic maps as starting points to uncover mysteries about the cultural and physical geography of the Earth.

Corn Maze Geography- Activity
Visit a corn maze and use these activities to learn about maps and geography.

Finding Your Way with a Map and Compass- Background Information
A brief description of how to navigate using a compass and topographic maps.   

How to Use a Compass with a USGS Topographic Map- Activity
Learn to navigate using a topographic map and a compass.

Topographic Maps Illustrating Physiographic Features- Background Information
Topographic maps can be used to study a wide range of physical features in the United States. This helps students learn about the geologic evolution of the Nation's natural landscapes and shows how topographic maps reveal more about the land surface than just its shape and elevation. Roam your cursor across maps and images on this online viewer to learn about selected features of the American landscape.

Map Symbols- Background Information
An explanation of topographic maps and map symbols.

Free Digital USGS Topographic Map Quadrangles- Maps
Click on "Map Locator & Downloader" to download free USGS topographic map quadrangles in georeferenced PDF (GeoPDF) format. Paper copies (a cost product) can be ordered at the same location.

125 Years of USGS Topographic Maps- Background Information
December, 2009 marked the 125th anniversary of the USGS Topographic Mapping Program.

US Topo: The Next Generation Topographic Map- Maps
Do you teach about maps, or do you use them in the classroom? The USGS has a new map series called the US Topo. Modeled on the old topographic series, these maps are derived from digital data that allow the entire contiguous U.S. to be remapped every three years. Download free digital US Topo maps through the Map Locator. Download PDF files of traditional topographic maps at the same site.

Map Tools

USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS)- Background Information
GNIS contains information for almost 2 million physical and cultural geographic features in the United States and its territories. Query the database to find individual features and their corresponding coordinates. Search results include links to online air photos and topographic maps containing the feature.

Elevations and Distances- Background Information
Tables of information covering elevations of features and distances between points in the United States . Also locates the geographic center of each state.   

Map-It: Form-based Simple Map Generator- Activity
Enter the longitude and latitude of points to plot on a simple map. Download a postscript version of the resulting map.   Satellite Imagery

Tracking Change over Time- Activity
Enhance students' learning of geography, map reading, earth science, and problem solving through landscape changes recorded by satellites in space.

AmericaView- Lessons
USGS is a partner in AmericaView, which has lesson plans and other education resources for working with satellite imagery. Mostly targeted to grades 6-12.

Satellite Image Gallery- Photos
A special collection of satellite images that record beautiful sights, events of historic significance, and scenes that stir the imagination. Includes the 'Earth as Art' collection. All images can be downloaded for free as high-resolution JPEG files.

Thematic Maps

USGS Map Catalog: Culture and History- Maps
Click on "Education Products" then "Culture and History" to browse maps related to the exploration, history, and cultural resources of the United States. Most of these maps can be purchased in paper format. Map titles include:

  • Indian Land Areas Judicially Established
  • Indian Land Areas
  • Indian Lands in the United States
  • Early Indian Tribes, Culture Areas, and Linguistic Stocks
  • Lewis and Clark: A Legacy of Science
  • Routes of the Principal Explorers
  • 1857 Map of the USA
  • An Emerging Nation (first map of the United States, made in 1784)
  • Electing the President (political map for 2000)
  • Public Land Surveys Map (1776 through 1965)
  • Outline Map of the United States

Federal Lands and Indian Reservations - Printable Maps- Maps
Maps showing Federal lands and Indian Reservations for the entire U.S. or individual states. Maps print on 8.5"x11" paper.   

Land Use

Urban Dynamics Research Program Analysis of Land Use Change in Urban Environments- Background Information
Describes how the USGS is involved in Urban Change Research. Highlights various projects within the Land Cover Institute's research portfolio.

Urban Growth in American Cities- Background Information
An on-line publication that illustrates the spatial history of urban growth in sixteen areas around the U.S. and the corresponding land use change. Images can be downloaded as GIF files.

Analyzing Land Use Change in Urban Environments (PDF)- Background Information
Four-page USGS Fact Sheet describing and illustrating the need for urban growth studies.

Land Use History of North America- Background Information
Describes the historical and on-going changes in land use and land cover for several regions around the U.S. The section on Land Use Changes in the Southwestern U.S. A section for teachers is under construction.

Satellite Imagery

Tracking Change over Time- Activity
Enhance students' learning of geography, map reading, earth science, and problem solving through landscape changes recorded by satellites in space.

AmericaView- Lesson
USGS is a partner in AmericaView, which has lesson plans and other education resources for working with satellite imagery. Mostly targeted to grades 6-12.

Satellite Image Gallery- Photos
A special collection of satellite images that record beautiful sights, events of historic significance, and scenes that stir the imagination. Includes the 'Earth as Art' collection. All images can be downloaded for free as high-resolution JPEG files.

Free USGS Satellite Images- Photos
Most USGS satellite images are now available for free download. Download an entire scene containing all bands and metadata in a single zipped file. Access the data through EarthExplorer or the more user-friendly GloVis Viewer.

EarthNow!- Photos
Currently only works in Internet Explorer. A mesmerizing, near-real time viewer that displays data received from the Landsat 5 and Landsat 7 satellites as they pass over the United States.

Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change- Photos
Before-and-after satellite images of environmental change events. The image sets include detailed descriptions of what occurred, a list of references, and a question/answer.

Satellite Image of Your State- Photos
Download and print a spectacular free image of your state created by combining satellite imagery with the National Elevation Dataset.

Download or Purchase USGS Maps and Satellite Imagery

USGS Store- Background Information
A quick and easy way to find and order printed USGS products: paper maps, books, and other publications. Also use this site to download free 1:24K, 1:100K and 1:250K topographic maps for anywhere in the U.S. in GeoPDF format, and to browse educational products. Teacher discounts are available for some purchases.

Free downloads of digital USGS data including satellite imagery, digital aerial photos, and cartographic products. Some high-resolution scans of air photography must still be purchased. Locate products by name, coordinates, or define on a map.

Global Visualization Viewer (GloVis)- Background Information
The most user-friendly method for browsing and ordering Landsat, Terra ASTER, MODIS, and EO-1 satellite images and NAPP photography. Allows convenient preview of images and scene mosaics. All USGS satellite imagery is available through this Web site.Land Use History and Changing Landscapes

USGS Urban Dynamics Research Program- Background Information
Describes a project that analyzes land use change in urban environments in order to provide a historical perspective of land use change and an assessment of the spatial patterns, rates, correlation, trends, and impacts of that change. Includes links to computer animations of urban growth in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Baltimore-Washington Area.

Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change- Photos
Earthshots is an e-book of before-and-after Landsat images (1972-present), showing recent environmental events and introducing the concept of remote sensing. Some changes are due to natural causes and some are due to human causes. Each set of images includes a detailed description, photographs and maps, a list of references, and a question/answer. Images are best used on-line.   

Geologic Maps

What is a Geologic Map?- Background Information
A brief overview of geologic maps and how they're made

National Geologic Map Database- Background Information
This exhaustive database provides bibliographic access to many thousands of geologic, geophysical, and other kinds of maps available in USGS publication, Web sites, and in popular science journals, etc.   

Tapestry of Time and Terrain- Map
Shaded relief and geology are combined on this map of the 48 conterminous states. It's a useful resource for discussing physiographic provinces and rocks deposited during different geologic time periods. Download a free PDF or purchase a paper version through the USGS Store. Both versions include an 18-page pamphlet. This is one of the most eye-catching maps produced by the USGS.

The North America Tapestry of Time and Terrain- Background Information
Reveals the geologic history of North America through the interrelation of rock type, topography, and time. Regional surface processes as well as continent-scale tectonic events are exposed in the three dimensions of space and the fourth dimension, geologic time.

Geology of the Southern Appalachian Mountains- Poster
Created for use in high school and college classrooms, this double-sided USGS map consists of a geologic map, photographs of geologic features, diagrams of plate movement, and more. The map is a companion to The Southern Appalachians, a Changing World and the brochure Birth of the Mountains.